Installing Floor Surfaces

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Floor tiles are generally thicker than counter-top tiles; therefore, if you have many large or straight cuts to make, you may want to rent a commercial tile cutter, Tile nippers will suffice for small trim jobs, but not for the big ones. Always wear goggles to protect your eyes when cutting tiles since the chips do fly. Most floor tiles do not come with special trim pieces, which you may not need anyway. If you want baseboards or molding, you can choose any that seem to fit your design.

When you’ve selected and purchased your tiles, plan your pattern. You can establish your pattern by following Steps 1 through 3 for Vinyl Floor Tiles on page 90 or by following the steps outlined here. When you plan your pattern, you are deciding where you want to place the cut pieces around the edges of the room and how equal you want them to be. The steps below suggest centering tiles in the middle of the room and shifting the rows so that a cut tile on one end is balanced by a cut tile of equal size on the other. The method outlined here suggests establishing a row centered in the door way. With this method you always start with full tiles at the doorway and may have cut tiles at the other end. You can try either or both ways and decide which looks better. Make sure your floor surface is clean, dry, and flat. Sand rough surfaces, and, if necessary, install new underlayment.

Tools: tile cutter; tile nippers; chalk line; two wood strips; hammer; unnotched trowel; notched trowel; rubber trowel; roller; carpet-wrapped length of 2 by 4; mal let.

Supplies: goggles; sandpaper; mastic; nails; grout; damp cloth or sponge; buff cloth; tile sealer.

1. Measure the width of your bath room doorway, and mark its center. Snap a chalk line from this point to the back of the room, making sure that it is exactly perpendicular to the threshold. Following the line, lay out full tiles from the doorway to the other end, leaving 1/16 inch between them—use spacers. When you’ve laid as many full tiles as you can, draw a line on the floor to mark the back edge of the last tile. Nail a wood strip across the end of the room so that its inside edge meets your mark, is exactly perpendicular to your chalk line, and runs the full width of the bath room. This strip must be straight even if the back wall is not. Then lay out a horizontal row of tiles. Wherever the last full tile ends, nail down another wood strip perpendicular to the first. The two wood strips must form a perfect 90° angle, because you will begin setting tiles in this corner and your rows must be perfectly straight.

86 Adjusted line; Chalk line; Wood strips; Tub; Wall; Doorway

2. Beginning at your square corner, apply the adhesive recommended by the tile manufacturer or your dealer. Plan to apply two coats of adhesive. Spread the first coat with an unnotched trowel, covering the floor completely. This coat ensures a good bond and helps waterproof the underlayment. With a notched trowel held at a 45-degree angle, apply the second coat, covering one 3-foot-square section at a time.

87a First layer of adhesive, Smooth trowel, Second layer of adhesive

3. Starting in the corner press each tile into place. Twist it a little to help it adhere, but don’t slide it around in the glue too much. Insert 1/16-inch spacers between the tiles. Keep excess adhesive cleaned out of the grout channels and off the face of the tiles. When you finish tiling the first section, continue with an adjacent section until the floor is covered with all the full tiles.

4. When the full tiles are all in place, remove the two wood strips. Cut tiles to fit around fixtures and the edge of the floor. To cut a tile, turn a full tile upside down and slide it over the space to be filled. (You turn it upside down because you want the cut edge to face the wall. When you flip the cut tile over, it should fit perfectly, accommodating any odd shapes due to irregularities in the wall.) Mark it on both edges, allowing 1/16 inch for the grout line. Turn it over, run the mark across the face of the tile, and cut it with your tile cutter. Cut all your odd-shaped tiles in this way, keeping track of which tiles go where, and then set them with adhesive. Apply adhesive to the floor with a smooth trowel and to the back of the tile with a notched trowel. Press the tiles into place.

5. Your tiles will set more success fully and evenly if you press the en tire surface down with a roller within a couple of hours after the installation is complete. For hard- to-reach places use a length of 2 by 4 covered with scrap carpet or rags, and tap it gently with a mallet.

87b 2 by 4 wrapped in scrap carpeting

6. Alter the adhesive has set for 24 hours, apply grout with a rubber trowel. Clean out excess grout at the corners with a rounded stick or the end of a toothbrush. Remove excess grout from the face of the tile with a damp cloth or sponge, and then buff the tiles with a dry cloth. One to two weeks after the grout has cured, apply a tile sealer over all the grouted joints to keep them clean and to prevent mildew.


In addition to individual tiles, ceramic tile is also avail able in sheets made up of smaller, “mosaic” tiles, Some sheets are pre-grouted; others are held together with paper on the face of the tiles or mesh on the back. In either case prepare your floor surface as outlined in Steps 1 through 3 for installing Ceramic Floor Tiles.

Tools: utility knife trowel, or razor blade; tile flippers; rubber grout; damp cloth or sponge; buff

Supplies: mastic; cloth.

1. When laying a sheet of ceramic tiles, fold, bend, or roll the sheet in ward so that the tile face is hidden. Set the open end of the sheet in place on the adhesive, and slowly unfold the sheet, pressing the tiles into the glue as you work. The space between sheets should equal the space between the tiles.

2. When you work around an obstruction of some sort, use a utility knife or razor blade to cut along the seams in the sheet, removing all the tiles affected by the obstacle. Use tile nippers to cut individual tiles to fit around the obstruction.

3. To fill border spaces turn the sheet over, slide it over the space, and mark it, Cut along the line.

4. Apply adhesive to the floor and the back of the sheet, and press the trimmed sheet into place. If the face of your tiles is covered with protective paper, soak the paper with warm water, and peel it off.

5. Use a rubber trowel to spread grout into all the junctures. Wipe off the excess grout with a damp cloth or sponge, and buff the tiles with a dry cloth.

88a Cut and fold back around objects

88b Grout


You must have a smooth subfloor before installing sheet vinyl, because the material conforms to the floor beneath it. Bumps and bulges will show and may eventually damage the vinyl. Installing sheet vinyl is a bit trickier than vinyl tiles because of the painstaking care required to ensure accurate cutouts around fixtures and corners, and because a full roll of the material is heavy and unwieldy. Nonetheless, loosely laid (no adhesive) sheet vinyl offers so wide a variety of flooring possibilities at a moderate price that it is very popular in bathrooms. Try to select a roll width that will not require butting two sheets together. A bath room is rarely so long or wide that it cannot be covered by a single width. The easiest way to cut your sheet to size is to unroll it in another room, and draw your bath room layout directly on the vinyl. Laying carpet is much the same as laying vinyl, but it’s easier. Because carpet is flexible, you can make your cuts more easily. Follow the steps below.

Tools: utility knife; trowel; straightedge.

Supplies: mastic.

1. Carefully measure your bath room floor. Measurements around fixtures, curves, and corners should be very precise. If you’re worried about accuracy, lay out a paper pattern: Cut and tape pieces of paper together until they entirely cover the floor.

2. Transfer your measured outline or paper pattern to the unrolled vinyl. When you’ve drawn your out line, place a thick piece of cardboard under the area you want to cut, to protect your floor and knife blade. Using a utility knife, cut around the outline, leaving 3 to 6 inches of extra vinyl on all sides. This allows for errors and stretching, and you can trim away the extra when you have laid the flooring.

3. Move the sheet to your bath room, and lay it out. Trim large overlaps immediately with your utility knife. Then trim precisely, leaving a minimum gap of 1/8-inch between the vinyl and the wall. This allows for expansion and con traction of the underlayment. Molding will cover the gap.

89a Utility knife

4. If you install molding, place a piece of cardboard between the vinyl and the molding, nail the molding to the wall, and then re move the cardboard. This will leave a clearance between the molding and the floor, which allows the walls and floor to shift without affecting the vinyl. Install a threshold at the doorway to protect that edge.

89b Wall; Leave approximately 3 inches for errors and stretching; Cardboard


Vinyl tiles conform to the surface they overlay: Bumps, bulges, or other irregularities in the underlayment will show through and interfere with adhesion, preventing tiles from lying flat and causing them to come unglued in the future. Therefore, you must smooth the existing underlayment or replace it.

Vinyl tiles are generally much easier to lay than sheet vinyl, because you don’t have to handle a large roll of material, and you can make cutouts on the spot using a utility knife or even a pair of heavy-duty shears. The disadvantage of vinyl tiles, apart from their being somewhat more expensive than sheet vinyl, is that if the tiles become loose water can seep between them and rot the underlayment. But carefully installed vinyl tiles should serve you well. The method shown here for laying out your tiles is not the only one. See below on ceramic floor tiles. Basically you’re trying to determine where you’ll place cut tiles. You may want a full tile near the door or along the tub, for instance. By laying out the tiles you can decide what you like and then determine which method will ensure straight, even rows when you set them.

Tools: chalk line or straightedge and chalk; utility knife.

Supplies: mastic; silicone seal.

1. Determine the center of all four bathroom walls, and draw lines on the floor connecting the center points. Snap a chalk line or use a straightedge and a piece of loose chalk. The point at which the two lines intersect, forming four 90-deg. angles, is the center of your bath room.

2. To achieve even rows of tile with identical borders, lay one full row of tiles along either line, from wall to wall, without applying any adhesive. If, when you reach the end of your trial row, a space re mains that Is smaller than half the width of a single tile, remove the last tile. Measure the new space and divide the measurement by 2. Return to the beginning of your row and move the first tile up as many inches as your answer; you will now have equal spaces at each end of the row, and each will be smaller than one full tile. (Example: You are using 12-inch tiles; the space remaining at the end of the row is 1 inch. When you remove a tile you have a total of 13 inches of space. Divide by 2, which equals 6½ inches. By restarting your row 6½ inches from the wall, you will also have 6½ inches at the other end of the row.) If, when you reach the end of your trial row, a space re mains that is larger than half the width of a single tile, leave it. A single end row more than half the width of a tile will not stand out or look bad.

90a Chalk line; All corners should be 90°

90b Even space at each end; 1 inch left after last full tile; Remove last tile, divide the new space by two, and adjust entire row to leave 6 1/2 inches at either end.

3. With the first row in place, set out a trial row of tiles perpendicular to it, as close to your second chalked line as possible, but fit so the sides of the center tiles meet exactly. If you have to move this second row to create even end tiles, do so. Then slide the entire first row to the left or right until the rows are completely aligned.

4. Using the adhesive recommended by the tile manufacturer, set your four center tiles in place. Remember that mastics used on floors harden quickly, so cover only a small portion of your floor at a time. Then start with the quarter of the room farthest from the door, and fill in that section of the floor first. Use only full tiles, and work to ward the walls in sequence as shown. Cut tiles to fit around obstacles such as pipes or fixtures that are already in place.

91 Adjust row to position cut tiles where you want them; Shift position of first row to match the second row; Work each quarter of room from the center; Mark cut line; Trimmed tile in place; Wall

5. Do all the border tiles last. Turn one full tile upside down, lay it over the gap between the wall and your covered floor, and cut it where it overlaps the tile you’ve laid. This will give your border tiles an exact fit with the wall. Measure and cut each border tile separately in case your wall is not straight. Complete each quarter of the floor in the same way as the first. Apply silicone seal around the bases of all fixtures. You should be able to walk on your floor within 24 hours.

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Updated: Monday, 2011-07-11 5:50